By Rezaul H Laskar
Jun 28, 2017
In this July 13, 2011 file photo, Syed Salahuddin, the supreme commander of Hizbul Mujahideen, addresses his supporters in Muzaffarabad capital of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. (AP)
The US designation of Syed Salahuddin, the Pakistan-based chief of Hizbul Mujahideen and United Jihad Council, as a global terrorist is significant for India’s efforts to counter cross-border terror in several ways.
Since the US state department began listing individuals and organisations as “specially designated global terrorists” in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks in 2001, Salahuddin is the only terrorist from Jammu and Kashmir to make the infamous list.
Unlike other Pakistan-based Indian citizens who have been listed by the US state department or treasury department, such as mob boss Dawood Ibrahim, Islamabad has never denied the presence of Salahuddin on its soil.
Salahuddin openly operates from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, Islamabad and Rawalpindi, the garrison city where the Hizbul Mujahideen has held recruitment drives and fund-raising rallies at a short distance from the Pakistani military’s General Headquarters.
He has also attended rallies and meetings organised jointly with the Jamaat-ud-Dawah and Defa-e-Pakistan Council. Last December, Salahuddin joined Jamaat-ud-Dawah chief Hafiz Saeed and several other militant leaders to address a rally in PoK capital Muzaffarabad that called for the revival of jihad in Kashmir.
And while the US has designated other anti-India groups and individuals – such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed and Jamaat-ud-Dawah chief Hafiz Saeed – it has usually done so only after the groups set up cells in the West, established links with al-Qaeda or targeted US troops or citizens in terror attacks.
There is no evidence currently of the Hizbul Mujahideen establishing a presence in the West though the state department announcement designating Salahuddin stated that such sanctions are imposed on foreigners who “pose a significant risk of committing acts of terrorism that threaten the security of US nationals or the national security, foreign policy, or economy” of America.
Though the 71-year-old Salahuddin is no longer seen as directly controlling the day-to-day operations of the Hizbul Mujahideen, he remains a key ideological leader driving its recruitment and fund-raising activities in Pakistan and networking with other terror groups.
Pakistan has responded to the US designation of Salahuddin by linking it to the movement of Kashmiri people for the right to self-determination. A statement from the Foreign Office, which didn’t name Salahuddin, described the movement as “legitimate” and the US sanctions as “completely unjustified”.
But with the US position on terrorism in the region aligning more closely with that of India, it may be difficult for the Pakistani security establishment to resist pressure to crack down on terrorists such as Salahuddin.